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The End of Many Books

Dispensational Hermeneutics

by Michael Vlach

If you are committed to hating anything Dispensational, then it doesn’t really matter what a Dispy says. Alright. But if you are committed to trying to read the Bible and understand what it says, and want the Bible to tell you what “system” (if any) to believe rather than depending on the System to tell you what you can believe in the Bible, Dispensational Hermeneutics would edify you.

Vlach encourages me. He is clear, and he does not overstate his arguments, which is part of what enables him to avoid coming off as combative. I appreciated his start with the Bible’s storyline, including God’s purposes for “the salvation of nations/society and the restoration of creation” (Loc. 138). The guts of the book are his ten hermeneutical principes:

  1. Consistent Use of Grammatical-Historical Hermeneutics to All Scripture
  2. Consistent Contextual Interpretation of Old Testament Prophecies
  3. Passage Priority: The Meaning of Any Bible Passage Is Found in that Passage
  4. Old Testament Prophecies not Repeated in the New Testament Remain Relevant
  5. Old Testament Eschatology Expectations Are Reaffirmed in the New Testament
  6. Progress of Revelation Does Not Cancel or Transform Unconditional Promises to the Original Audience
  7. Fulfillments Occur with the Two Comings of Jesus
  8. Partial Fulfillments of Old Testament Prophecies
  9. Jesus as Means of Fulfillment of the Old Testament
  10. Types, Yes! Typological Interpretation, No!

He argues against a “Christocentric” reading, but offers instead “a Christotelic approach (that) asserts that all Scripture is related to the person and work of Christ, even though Christ is not found in every passage. All Scripture is not Jesus, but all Scripture relates to Him” (Location 1132). That’s a helpful distinction.

One of the things I’ve seen going around recently is that the nation of Israel doesn’t matter to God at all any more because Jesus is the TRUE Israel and all the OT promises are fulfilled in Him. But Jesus can be the Seed and there can still be future fulfillment for the other parts of the covenants.

“The New Testament writers do not apply a mystical, metaphysical personalism hermeneutic concerning Jesus that makes details of Bible prophecies evaporate into Him.” (Location 1757)

The teaching (and hermeneutic) of the apostles did not transform or redefine, let alone cancel, previous revelation. Come on, people.

There are two reasons I’m giving this 4/5 instead of 5/5 stars.

First, I’m sure there’s a good reason, but I think calling it “Dispensational Hermeneutics” is the wrong name altogether. Until a few years ago, I didn’t even know that people talked that way. Grammatical-Historial hermeneutics, YES! But the Dispensational nickname/label is a result of Bible reading not a way to get a certain “reading” of the Bible. Dispensational as an adjective should describe the person post-reading, not as an adjective for a pre-reading lens.

Consistent (and I know that’s not always easy to get) Grammatical-Historical reading of the text would reject extra-biblical covenants that are supposedly necessary to understand the story of the Bible. Consistent sola Scriptura bears the fruit of Dispensationalism, Dispensationalism is not the soil or seed. So I love the principles, and don’t love the adjective in the title.

Second, I’d love to see more “here and now” application which also comes from avoiding the “spiritualized” reading required by non-Dispy systems. Call it Kuyperian, call it non-gnostic/non-pietistic, you pick. Take this quote:

“The Christian worldview, though, affirms the goodness of both physical and spiritual realities. While they are distinct, physical and spiritual realities both are important in God’s purposes, and one does not supersede the other.” (Location 1433)

Yes and amen, but the book puts this worldview more in the future context, which is right, but misses some of the relevance for the present day. The physical blessings of God on His people will be unsurpassed in the Millennial Kingdom and into the eternal state, but many of those blessings won’t be unprecedented, as in, known for the first time only then. The blessings of salvation now include intangibles and many tangibles, even if only a taste during the current time.

This may be an issue of emphasis, not really disagreement, but so many Dispies I know are functional dualists, where only the spiritual things matter, and, ironically, that is bad Bible reading, which we claim to be better at.

Regardless, this is a great read, full of plain principles that encourage Bible readers to take God at His Word.

4 of 5 stars

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Every Thumb's Width

The Dead End of (God-honoring) Gradual Development

Last Sunday I taught about economics. That interrupted a series I’ve been teaching through Revelation. As a futurist, that is, one who thinks the majority of the apocalyptic judgment is yet to occur, why would I bother admonishing the saints about building wealth of all kinds in the present age?

This is the problem that Kuyperian Dispensationalism raises, and also resolves.

If you’re already convinced about this, you’re one of maybe about twenty people on the planet (ha!). If you’re not convinced, let the following long quote and bullet points bounce around in your mental hopper.

The quote is from Kuyper himself in his book, Pro Rege: Living under Christ’s Kingship, Volume 1: The Exalted Nature of Christ’s Kingship. Kuyper was not a Dispensationalist, but I’ve been thinking about granting him that honorary status anyway. Here he explains how many things on earth will continue to get better and better and how that still won’t bring in Christ’s kingdom.

We must be certain and express clearly that the period of gradual development in which we now live will one day come to an end and pass over into the last period, which is that of a supernatural manifestation of power encompassing not only the whole world but the entire universe as well. The final victory cannot be brought about gradually, because [the path of gradual development] will end in failure. When it is clear and evident in the course of history that natural, gradual development does not and cannot lead to the final goal, then—and only then—will our King intervene in a completely supernatural manner so as to neutralize all resistance and to cause the full glory of his kingship to break through.

Before this happens, however, it must be determined and demonstrated that [this process of] gradual development was unable to lead to its triumph. One should not be able to say afterward: “If only it had pleased God to leave humanity to its own natural development, everything still would have worked out on its own.” No, the facts of history must show that humanity was incapable of this on its own. Humanity must therefore be given time. Time to absorb the blessing that Christianity brings. Time to test every method and manner of saving itself with the gospel’s help. Once it is clear after this generous passage of time that humanity failed—because its very life root has been poisoned and because the demonic power finds novel ways and means in every new development to enter humanity’s veins and spoil it from within—then and only then will Christ suddenly arrest this period of gradual development, fermentation, and influence, and intervene with his full kingly power. And [he will do] this no longer to save but to judge, and to bring about the consummation of his kingdom with supernatural power.

Pro Rege, 405-406

Many things will get better because:

  • God’s Spirit regenerates men to life, illuminates the Word for obedience, and energizes for fruitfulness, not just in eternity but on earth. This fruitfulness includes faithful dominion-taking as image-bearers of God (Genesis 1:28) and includes loving one’s neighbor and seeking their interests (Matthew 22:39 and Philippians 2:4). We love them by not only sharing the good news but also new goods.
  • God intends that our lives “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10), which is an aroma of life to those who are being saved (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). Not everyone is attracted to the gospel by God’s blessing on those who believe it, but some (including a future generation of Israelites) will be made jealous into salvation (Romans 11:11, 13-14, 25-26).

But better things themselves won’t bring about Christ’s reign on earth because:

  • God is exposing that the sinfulness of men is so sinful that many men will still resist giving glory to God for all the good He gave them (Psalm 112:10; Romans 1:18-23), and so He ordains for them to store up more wrath for themselves (Romans 2:4-5).
  • And as the Kuyper quote above, time is not the savior, only the Savior is, and soli Deo gloria.
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Lord's Day Liturgy

As Good as It’s Ever Been

When Jesus instituted what we call the Lord’s Supper, He pointed to the cup that points to His covenant.

After telling His disciples to eat the bread representing His body, “he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins'” (Matthew 26:27-28). Luke recorded it also, “Likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood'” (Luke 22:20).

The “new covenant” is named as such in Jeremiah 31:31, and related descriptions are paralleled in Ezekiel 36. This new covenant is not like the Mosaic covenant given to Israel when they came out of Egypt. In this one, the Lord promised to put His law directly within them, to write it not on stone tablets but on their hearts. This covenant wouldn’t just point out why they needed forgiveness, it would purchase and apply it.

In its original setting the new covenant was for “the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). The Lord compared the likelihood that He would fulfill this promise to the fixed order of the sun and moon. “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation forever” (Jeremiah 31:35-36).

And it is the Lord who has opened the door for us who were not Jews to enjoy the good news of forgiveness and new hearts. He has opened the way for us, He will finish His promise to save a coming generation of Israel by His Spirit (Romans 11:25-26), and His Word is as good as it has ever been.

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Every Thumb's Width

All Sanctimoniousness and Powerlessness

I’ve wanted to share this video and connect it with the quotes below it for some time. Since the interview came out at the beginning of December, it’s apparently been on my mind for half a year. Ha!

The interview is with John MacArthur on The Ben Shapiro Show. Some of you watched it already, and great. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it, and I recommend it as a perfect example of the kind of Dispensationalist (like MacArthur) I want to be and the kind of Dispensationalist I also want to build on.

MacArthur’s answers about Jesus as the only hope are great at heart. His appeal to Shapiro to embrace Jesus as the longed for Messiah of the Jews is true, clear, and gracious. In this way MacArthur keeps the main thing the main thing.

It makes me think of the following comment by Abraham Kuyper, found in the chapter on “Common Grace” in A Centennial Reader (page 172), about the problem with some Christians who get a buzz out of discussing Christian impact without first establishing faith in Christ.

“The sects on the other hand have consistently attempted to change this healthy balance by diverting attention from the deeper questions of justification to drive us toward Chiliasm or the Millennial Kingdom by speaking much about the manner of our physical resurrection, about a prior second coming of our Lord, about whether, according to Paul, the Jews will return to Jerusalem, and the like. One can thus have a stimulating religious conversation without being troubled in conscience or convinced of one’s wretched state before God. Therefore we cannot warn often enough against the danger of shifting conversations in Christian circles away from the salvation of the soul to such eternal but sensational topics. In truly Reformed circles that danger is avoided when the substance of conversation is not Chiliasm or the Jewish question but the question of how God is honored and our soul justified.”

In other words, the “Chiliasts” (that is, the Dispensationalists, those believers who anticipate Israel’s national repentance and restoration as part of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom as promised in Romans 11 and Revelation 20), may focus too much on eschatology and applaud themselves for such spiritual interests and yet miss the gospel requirements of first importance. It is possible to distract others from dealing with Christ’s claims and every man’s need to believe in Him for justification. MacArthur does not get so caught up in the future that he lets Shapiro off the hook in the present. And amen.

However, the Christ that MacArthur proclaims to Shapiro is, ironically, not the complete Christ as revealed in the Bible. Jesus saves souls, yes, and He also has more to say after that. This is where we Dispensationalists often stop building too soon. Here is the very next paragraph from Kuyper:

“…[W]e have no right to conceptualize the image of the Mediator in ways other than Scripture presents it. People fall into one-sidedness in the opposite direction if, reflecting on the Christ, they think exclusively of the blood shed in atonement and refuse to take account of the significance of Christ for the body, for the visible world, and for the outcome of world history. Consider carefully: by taking this tack you run the danger of isolating Christ for your soul and you view life in and for the world as something that exists alongside your Christian religion, not controlled by it.”

We must point people to salvation in no other name but Jesus, but we’re only partially done if we point them to a Jesus who offers no wisdom for, or commandments regarding, cultural decisions other than separate and survive until He returns. The public square is not, as Kuyper described “territory which must somehow take care of itself.” Shapiro asked MacArthur repeatedly how believing in Christ affects society, and MacArthur said in effect, “That’s not what Christ cares about.” It is true that discipleship is personal, but not just for how to behave in private.

“From that opposition and false proportionality springs all narrow-mindedness, all inner unreality, if not all sanctimoniousness and powerlessness.”

This is a unique sort of Christian dualism that honors itself as the heights of spirituality and biblical fidelity, and no wonder many Christians don’t know that the Romans Road isn’t finished after evangelism.

Categories
A Shot of Encouragement

Losing as a Weapon

First, this ought to be a great encouragement to the church:

“Losing does not disturb us; it does not unsettle our faith. This is something the Church generally does really well. Speaking frankly, we frequently lose successfully far more often than we succeed successfully. Losing is our secret weapon.”

Same Sex Mirage, pp. 258-259

Second, this was written by a postmillennialist, but doesn’t it do a much better job of explaining how a dispensational premillennialist can be optimistic about the progress of the gospel and the “success” of the church while still thinking the world is going to hell?